There has been a considerable amount of deliberation about the comparative advantages the United States may (or may not) have in a trade war with China.  Putting aside the economic arguments, which I think one would honestly have to concede can play out in ways hard to predict, I think more than a couple of commentators have overlooked one serious strategic consideration:  Unlike China (or even the EU—remember member states don’t set tariffs), America’s head of state is (more or less) democratically elected.

It’s a nuanced point, but could have considerable implications from a bargaining standpoint.  If America ever entered into a trade war with either, the confrontation would by definition involve one actor (the President) who would directly internalize the political costs of tariff retaliation, negotiating with counterparts who aren’t.  This could translate into less (political) leverage on the US side, whatever the economics.  Then again, alternatively, the political upside to a successful negotiation could, quite interestingly, be higher.

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